Did you need something to address turf toe? Moe had it. Heavy duty belt buckles for softball? Moe had it. Products for “SNL” segments, uniforms for EMTs, live bait for fishermen, or beds for hospitals during the pandemic?
Moe had it all, not to mention all the usual bats, balls, gloves and other sporting equipment for players and teams across The Bronx and beyond.
That was Moe Stein, the owner of East Tremont Avenue’s famed Frank’s Sports Shop who passed away at the age of 93, the store announced in an Instagram post on Monday.
Moe was truly a Bronx legend, born and raised in Frank’s Sport Shop,” the post read. “Moe inherited the business from his father Frank, and continued to work there with his children until he was 93 years old. He was the character and face of the business. If you know Frank’s, you know Moe. We will miss him greatly.”
Moe Stein was “the best hard salesman. He could sell ice to the Eskimos,” one of his sons, Ron Stein, 60, told THE CITY on Wednesday.
“He just loved to engage people,” said Ron, Frank’s general merchandise manager and the third generation of Steins to run the store, as he recalled being a young boy watching his father work with customers. “He related to a lot of the working guys.”
After opening in Manhattan’s Bowery in 1922, the store moved after just a few years to its home at 430 East Tremont Ave., where over time it outlasted several other nearby sports goods stores.
Thanks in part to Moe Stein’s admirable stubbornness or steadiness, Frank’s remained in place through the borough’s struggles in the 1970s and 1980s, as The Bronx became synonymous with urban decay. The iconic shop, located in the nation’s poorest Congressional district, continued to supply generations of Bronxites with mounds of merchandise—and kept its entire workforce employed through the pandemic.
‘An Alright Little Spot’
For Michael Pendelton, 59, who was working at Frank’s when it reopened on Wednesday following a brief closure after Moe’s death, his life has run a full circle around the store.
Pendelton grew up in East Tremont and played basketball nearby. He remembers his mother going to Frank’s to buy the supplies he needed for camp one summer. After growing up and working as a substance abuse counselor, Pendelton sought a change in life and, earlier this year, started working at Frank’s after Moe personally trained him.
“If someone told me [I’d be working here], I would’ve called them a liar,” he said, shortly before stepping away to help two women looking for a baseball glove.
Those women weren’t regulars or locals, but tourists from Spain visiting New York City who’d made their way to The Bronx to find a glove for a friend back home who plays semi-professional softball.
“In Spain, it’s more difficult to get good softball material than it is here,” Irati Barragan told THE CITY in Spanish. So their friend asked, “Can you go to this shop?” she recalled. “Because they probably have a left-handed glove.” And indeed, Barragan and her companion departed the store with a new glove to bring back to their friend in Spain.
Outside the shop, Milton Simpson felt a wave of nostalgia looking at the merchandise displayed in the window.
“I don’t know about the kids nowadays but coming up in my time, in my era down there and up here, this was an alright little spot,” Simpson, 60, said as he recalled buying sneakers — Converses and Pro-Keds — and sports jackets at Frank’s while growing up in Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s and then living in East Tremont in the 1980s and 1990s.
The well-stocked store was a destination for some collectors during the burgeoning sneaker craze of the 1990s, and hit a new level of notoriety when it came up in the 2005 documentary about sneaker culture “Just for Kicks.”
In the film, a kid from New Jersey talks about going with other sneakerheads to hit up an “old school” sports store in The Bronx called Frank’s, and asking if they had had any old merchandise. After coaxing the clerks into letting them see the basement, they found treasures including a Charles Barkley shoe from 1996, and left with $10 and $20 treasures. Those sneakers would now sell for thousands of dollars.
Matt McKenzie, who’s worked at Frank’s for 14 years, told THE CITY on Wednesday that it was “shocking” to learn of Moe’s death “because he was always a really strong man.”
“If anybody could do it, Moe could always pull through,” he said. “He’s a strong, strong man.”